Destinee Merrell sentenced to 10 years in 2017 death of 3-year-old daughter, Adelynn
CRESTVIEW — A Crestview woman has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for her role in the death of her 3-year-old daughter, who was found dead in the woods with a fatal head injury four years ago.
Destinee Merrell pleaded guilty Tuesday to accessory after the fact to a first-degree felony and two counts of child neglect, according to a news release from the State Attorney's Office.
The charges stem from the 2017 death of Merrell's daughter, Adelynn, who died of blunt force trauma to the head inflicted while in the care of Merrell's live-in boyfriend, Cory Hagwell.
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According to the State Attorney's Office, Merrell called 911 to report her child missing in November 2017. Law officers later discovered Adelynn’s body in a trash-strewn wooded area not far from the Crestview home Hagwell and Merrell shared.
During interviews with investigators, Hagwell and Merrell both attempted to place blame on the other and provided an inconsistent timeline and explanation of events, the release said.
Merrell eventually cooperated with law enforcement and admitted that she made false statements in an effort to protect Hagwell. Although Merrell did not witness the actual incident that caused Adelynn's death, Merrell disclosed to law enforcement she heard a “thud” when Hagwell put Merrell’s daughter in “time out” by locking her inside a bathroom.
Merrell revealed that she went to check on her daughter four to five hours later and found her daughter deceased.
After conducting an autopsy, the medical examiner determined the cause of death as blunt force trauma to Adelynn’s head. The medical examiner opined the injury was consistent with the type of injury an individual would suffer from striking an uneven surface.
However, who or what caused the fatal trauma could not be determined. Additionally, neither the evidence nor an expert could exclude the theory that an elevated fall caused the fatal injury; for example, a fall from a countertop, chair or bathtub.
Two other children in the home were found to be severely malnourished, and a jailhouse interview with Merrell uncovered that the children were routinely confined to bedrooms and closets.
Merrell’s surviving 5-year-old child provided information about events through a forensic interview, the release said. The state decided to seek the death penalty against Hagwell based upon the information learned from the interview.
However, prosecutors later decided to remove the death penalty after a deposition of the same child witness. During the deposition, the child was unable to recall critical information essential to the state’s position regarding the death penalty.
Ultimately, Hagwell entered a plea to aggravated manslaughter of a child and two counts of child neglect. He was ruled guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Merrell, following her plea Tuesday, was sentenced to a decade in prison on the accessory charge and two concurrent five-year sentences on the child neglect charges. She received credit for the time she has been incarcerated since her arrest in 2017, meaning she has about six more years on her sentence.